Posted on 09/28/2008

Photo taken on July 25, 1946

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Loy Harrison
Monroe Georgia
July 25
Victims: Roger and Dorothy Malcolm
Victims: George and Mae Murray Dorse
African Americans Slaughtered
Moore's Ford Bridge Massacre
Deep South
Atlanta Georgia
10yr old witness: Clinton Adams

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Unsolved: The Moore's Ford Bridge Massacre

Unsolved:  The Moore's Ford Bridge Massacre
On that July evening in 1946, the leader counted aloud and the mob of white men fired. Seconds later, the leader counted again, One, two, three, and the mob fired once more. After the third and final volley of gunshots, the white men got into their cars and drove off, leaving the bullet-ridden bodies of two young black men and two young black women lying in the dirt near Moore's Ford Bridge in rural Walton County, Georgia. Since that summer evening, there have never been as many victims lynched on a single day in America.

Moore's Ford Bridge sits on a quiet country road, around a sharp bend and surrounded by piney woods. It is an out-of-the-way place, unmarked and unremarkable save for the murders that once took place there.

The bridge, in Monroe, Georgia, is a killing place. It was here, on a hot summer evening, that the last mass public lynching took place in America. On July 25, 1946, four young black people, two men and two women, were dragged from a car by a white mob, taken into the woods and murdered. No one was prosecuted for the crime.

Now, over 60 years later, a new chapter is being written in the history of Moore's Ford. Local activists are campaigning for the killers - at least two of whom are believed to still live within a few miles of the crossing - to be brought to justice. A re-enactment has been staged, there is a $25,000 reward and calls for a federal intervention. Most importantly of all, there is fresh hope.

Bobby Howard, a local civil rights worker, says renewed interest is just the beginning. Standing on the bridge, on a humid evening much like that fatal day in 1946, he stared at the muddy Appalachee River below. 'It was broad daylight when they killed 'em. Those men acted like they had nothing to hide. So far they have been right, but what's going on now might change that,' he said.

There is a wave of fresh prosecutions across the Deep South in some of the most brutal crimes from the days of segregation. Old cases have been reopened and old men have stood trial for their crimes. In June former Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty of killing three civil rights workers in 1964 in Mississippi. Other cases are being looked at. Proposals have been made for a special federal unit to investigate such crimes.

The South is finally re-examining the darkest parts of its soul. There is no spot darker than Moore's Ford, just a few miles from the town of Monroe. To travel back to that day is to step back into a distant world where the now close suburbs of Atlanta, with their strip malls and highways, might as well have been on the other side of the planet. Monroe was then a place of white landowners and poor black tenants. 'Negroes' knew their place and that place was lowly - property less, vote less and living at the whims of whites.

The Moore's Ford story began with a fight. Local black laborer Roger Malcolm stabbed the son of a white farmer. He was jailed, and then bailed out by local white landowner and bootlegger Loy Harrison. As Harrison drove Malcolm home he was accompanied by another black man, George Dorsey, a war veteran whom some whites saw as being 'uppity'. The two men's common law wives, Dorothy Malcolm and Mae Dorsey, were also in the car. Dorothy was seven months pregnant.

Harrison took a strange way home, eventually taking the road over Moore's Ford Bridge. The mob was waiting. The two black men were hauled out and beaten. A noose was placed over Malcolm's neck.

Then it was the women's turn. They fought and screamed. Their arms were broken. Finally, the mob turned into a firing squad. As its leader counted down 3-2-1, a volley of shots tore the victims apart. The bodies were so peppered with bullet holes, relatives had difficulty recognizing the victims. There were up to 25 men in the mob, not one bothered to wear a mask. Yet Harrison told the police he did not recognize any of them.

This is not just history for people around Monroe. Not for Penny Young, whose mother was Malcolm's first wife. She has photographs of the young man still and lays them out on the table of a diner. 'My mother went to her grave thinking nothing would ever be done. Now something is being done,' she said.

Most shocking of all is the fact that no one was ever caught. A veil of silence greeted the hordes of FBI investigators sent in by a Washington government aggrieved by the lynching of a thrice-decorated war veteran. That same white silence has protected the killers for six decades. Yet campaigners of the Moore's Ford Memorial Committee believe up to five are still alive. One, in particular, has driven his car threateningly around some of the committee's meetings.

Faced with frightened or uncooperative witnesses, no physical evidence, and no confessions, the investigation went nowhere until 1991, when Clinton Adams came forward. Adams, the son of poor white sharecroppers, had grown up in the Monroe area and had spent years shifting locations, fearful of retribution if he said what he knew. He decided to talk to the FBI after losing his leg in an accident in 1990.

"I can't run no more," he said at the time, explaining his decision to speak out.

Adams, who was 10 in 1946, claimed to have hidden in the woods and watched the killings, but the four men he implicated were dead by 1991. So were the sheriff's deputies he said had warned him in 1946 to stay quiet.

But the veil of silence still exists. The shadow of the killings stretches darkly into the present. Down beneath the bridge the initials KKK have been scrawled in paint. Some black people are still afraid to talk about the case. Some whites in the white community still claim it was just a 'bootlegging' incident. Even proponents of trying to get a prosecution admit it is a long shot as the final witnesses and perpetrators die. 'Time is running out and there's people out there that it suits to just let it run. People must break the code of silence,' said Will Fleming, a former FBI investigator instrumental in recent fresh prosecutions in Alabama. Fleming believes prosecutions can still happen in Moore's Ford.

'We can't find closure without prosecutions,' added Tyrone Brooks, a local Georgia state senator.

But there is another dynamic at work. Moore's Ford has focused attention on America's 'dark secret' of lynching. Moore's Ford is just the tip of an iceberg. Within a few dozen miles are the sites of other lynchings. At nearby Watkinsville, where eight black men were dragged from prison and lynched in 1905. At Athens, where former soldier Lemuel Penn was murdered by the Klan in 1964. Similar memorial groups are springing up to confront a violent past that once saw lynchings happen in America at the rate of once a week for almost 80 years.

These are stories known by blacks, ignored and forgotten by whites. 'Back then a white person wasn't even inconvenienced by killing a black person,' said Howard.

What happened at Moore's Ford is not the past yet. Atlanta's suburbs may be marching onwards, the cotton fields have nearly all gone and black people can vote as freely as whites. But the twins of fear and silence still exist. The KKK beneath Moore's Ford Bridge is hidden from plain sight, but not rubbed out.